DISCLAIMER: All "ER" characters and institutions are the property of
Warner Bros., ConstantC Productions and Amblin Television. This is
written strictly for entertainment value, no infringement of copyright
or ownership is intended, and nobody is making a profit on this piece.
As always, any errors in continuity, characterization, or common sense
are entirely my own fault.
SPOILERS: Yes, for the second episode of the new season, "Dead Again."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Scott J Welles
Mark was smiling in the photograph, serenely unaware of the slow death growing in his head.
Gathered around him, the other doctors and nurses laughed and smiled at the camera, basking in their camaraderie. They were confident and happy together, as people who have been through hard, ugly times and knew they could count on each other. It was a good bunch to work with, and they were working in a good place. A place where life would prevail and hope would spring eternal.
Bollocks. Fucking bollocks, all of it.
Elizabeth hated the photograph. She hated the idyllic, almost glamorous vision of the ER that the photograph contained, Mark and the others all in their white coats like some sort of modern day Musketeers. Defenders of Good and Right, all for one and one for all. She hated how that same romanticized notion of this awful place had dominated her memories, luring her once more across the ocean and sucking her back into the waking nightmare, the cesspool of humanity that was the Emergency Room of Cook County General Bloody Hospital.
She hated that the photograph was still there on her second day back, as it had been the first. She hated that it would always be there; she couldn't take it down, as it belonged to all of them, more than it ever would to her. In a strange way, it was as if she belonged to it, the totem that bound her to this place by unspoken covenant. She hated that most of all.
Pulling on her coat and armoring herself against the day ahead, she forced thoughts of Mark out of her mind and proceeded swiftly to her office on the surgical floor. She looked neither left nor right as she walked, eager to avoid passing conversation with anyone who might try to offer her good cheer or, worse, sympathy.
There were a handful of new files on her overcrowded desk, Shirley's handwriting on the note on top. According to her, Robert wanted her to double-check some of the surgical notes and compare them to the final reports filed in his office; there had apparently been a few allegations of misconduct in the OR, and he wanted to look into it. Or, as she was certain he'd phrase it, "squash this before it starts to grow like mold."
In all likelihood, it would turn out to be nothing; hospitals were always having lawsuits hurled at them, warranted or not. Best to be certain, though, so that they could respond from a strong, informed position.
Flipping through the files and jotting down the case numbers, Elizabeth took the list over to Robert's office, surprising herself by wishing that she would find him in it. She'd come to think of Robert Romano as an uncle that she cared for even though he continually vexed and embarrassed her. He could be thoughtless, harsh, cruel, and spiteful, but she had also seen the compassionate, caring side he hid deep within. Like him or not, he had become like family to her. The devil you know is always preferable to the devil you don't know.
The devil she didn't know was in his office when she arrived. The one she'd known for years, yet who remained an unfathomable mystery to her.
Oh, goody, she thought venomously. It's Kerry Weeper...
The redheaded ER Chief was seated behind Robert's desk, glasses perched on her nose as she scanned quickly through a stack of papers larger than Elizabeth's. She looked up, her tired eyes turning cold as she saw who was entering. "Elizabeth," she said stiffly. "What can I do for you?"
"Nothing," Elizabeth replied, her voice low. She found herself resenting Kerry's presumptuous occupation of Robert's chair, just as she'd resented the sight of another doctor using Mark's locker downstairs. Swept aside as if they meant nothing. "I just came for some surgical reports," she added.
Kerry nodded, gesturing to the row of filing cabinets. "All right, help yourself," she said, returning to her reading.
Elizabeth crossed to the cabinets and opened them, swiftly selecting the ones she needed. "I wasn't asking your permission," she muttered.
There was a sigh as Kerry set down the papers she was reading.
Tucking the files beneath her arm, Elizabeth moved to the door without looking at Kerry.
She froze, then reluctantly turned to face her nemesis, already beginning to bristle.
Kerry stood up. "We need to clear the air," she said. "We can't keep antagonizing each other every time we meet."
Perhaps we shouldn't meet, then, Elizabeth thought, setting her files on top of the cabinet and crossing her arms. It would suit her just fine if Kerry moved to someplace far, far away and never returned. Preferably the Arctic Circle.
"You and I have to find some way to be civil around each other if we're going to work together..." Kerry began.
The question almost caught Kerry off-guard, but not quite. "So that this hospital and its staff can function as smoothly as possible. Not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the patients we serve..."
"Ah," Elizabeth said coldly. "Not at all so that you can consolidate your own power, then?"
"Elizabeth..." Kerry paused for a moment, visibly holding her temper. "See, this is exactly what I was talking about yesterday. This you-against-the-world attitude has got to stop."
"Oh, of course it has to be me, doesn't it?" Elizabeth retorted. "It couldn't possibly be you."
"I understand why you're being so defensive," Kerry forged ahead. "You've lost the man you loved, and now you're trying to push everyone else away. That's completely natural, but--"
"And just what would you know about that?!" Elizabeth spat the words like crossbow bolts. "How could YOU, of all people, have the first idea what it's like?!"
Kerry blanched at her scathing tone.
"I'm terribly sorry if I don't feel like getting on board with your little coup d'etat, Kerry," the surgeon sneered, "but frankly, the thought of someone like you taking control of the hospital..." She wanted to go on, but found she had to stop; the sheer contempt in her voice was making her throat feel bitter.
Kerry looked down at the desk's surface, slowly drumming her fingers. "Someone...like...me..." she repeated in time with the drumming.
Elizabeth turned away, reaching for the surgical files again.
"Is it because I'm gay?" Kerry asked.
Turning back sharply, Elizabeth blinked hard at her, eyes widening incredulously.
"Is that why you're feeling so hostile toward me?"
A short, harsh laugh escaped Elizabeth. "So I'm not only an irrational, grieving widow, now I'm a homophobe as well!" she said. "Really, Kerry, I know you'll find any excuse to be rid of someone who stands up to you, but that is ludicrous."
Kerry sighed. "I'm not trying to get rid of--"
"For your information, Kerry Weaver, I grew up in an all-girls' boarding school," Elizabeth informed her pointedly. "Five hundred healthy, curious young women discovering sex without the benefit of men. I'd been with six of them by the time I had my first heterosexual experience."
An angry flush came to Kerry's cheeks, and she bit her lip, glancing away.
"Now, why does that bother you, I wonder?" Elizabeth cooed, feigning sympathy. "Could it be, perhaps that you haven't been so fortunate?"
"Elizabeth, for God's sakes..."
"Does it upset you to learn I've probably had more pussy than you have? Is that what's bothering you, Kerry?"
Kerry looked directly at her. "It bothers me," she said slowly, "that you would respond to honest concern with such a childish taunt."
That stopped Elizabeth cold.
"I'd expect something like that from Robert, but it's unworthy of you, Elizabeth."
The low, steady modulation in Kerry's voice made her words all the more effective. Elizabeth suddenly felt very small inside, aware of how petty she was behaving. Damn the woman, she was right...
Kerry held up her hands. "I don't know exactly why you hate me so much, Elizabeth," she said, "and I don't have time to figure it out. But I expect you to start treating me, and everyone else, with the appropriate respect, or I'll be forced to take measures."
"What sort of measures?"
"I may not be the official Chief of Staff," Kerry said flatly, "but as long as I'm filling in for Dr. Romano, I am well within my purview to suspend you until he gets back. And regardless of whether he ends up supporting my decision, it goes on your permanent record."
Elizabeth gritted her back teeth together and kept her face hard as stone.
"I don't want to do that, Elizabeth, but this has got to stop. If your attitude continues to affect the operation of this hospital, then I may have no choice."
The surgeon nodded stiffly, feeling the tension in her calves from restraining herself. Had Robert Romano ever evoked such passionate hatred in her? She couldn't remember.
Kerry's face remained stern, but there was also a little discomfort in her face, like she wanted to end this confrontation on a positive note and couldn't find one. "Well," she said, "we both have work to do."
Elizabeth nodded again, turning to leave as Kerry sat again. But before she could open the door, she heard herself say, "You're just loving this, aren't you?"
She turned back to face Kerry again. "Finally, there's no one above you," she said, "no one to countermand you or stop you from claiming the authority you've always coveted."
Kerry stared at her, disbelieving.
"I don't imagine you're very worried about what Robert will do, Kerry," Elizabeth hissed. "I'm sure that, when he's fit to return to work, you'll find some way of demonstrating that he, too, 'came back too quickly'. Or perhaps you'll show that he's physically impaired, and he'll need to be 'tested', like Mark. And by that time, of course, you'll have had ample opportunity to show the Board of Directors what you're capable of accomplishing if given a free hand, and they'll naturally want you to continue on, won't they?"
The stunned, silent anger and hurt on Kerry's face were like a fresh laceration. Maybe she'd cry again.
"Well, congratulations on your success, Kerry. I hope you enjoy it." With this parting shot, Elizabeth started to turn...
"You're right, Elizabeth, you're absolutely right," Kerry grated, the slow burn boiling over. "This is all part of some master plan on my part. I arranged the pox scare and the helicopter accident just to seize power."
Elizabeth froze in place, looking at her.
"Even though I'm taking on all Robert's duties on top of my own, even though I'm on call twenty-four-seven, doing two jobs and not being paid a dime more, I just had to act on my lifelong dream." She scooped up a handful of papers from the desk. "A dream of reading, writing and signing endless progress reports! Financial reports! Personnel reports! Patient care follow-up reports! Outstanding lawsuit settlement reports!" With each word she threw them down on the desk.
Elizabeth resisted the urge to storm away.
"Until Robert gets back, I'm the one who has to beg and scrape for additional funding, Elizabeth. I'm the one who has to address the needs of every department in the hospital, including yours. I'm the one who has to find ways to deal with the huge influx of patients when two other hospitals close!" Kerry was almost shaking with white-hot rage, something Elizabeth had never seen before. "I volunteered to fill the void because it had to be done, and no one else stepped up! But, hey, maybe you're right and I'm not the one best suited to run this place. So here's a thought, Elizabeth: you don't feel comfortable with me taking on these responsibilities? Then how about YOU DO IT!"
With a sudden, vicious movement, Kerry threw a thick handful of papers at Elizabeth.
The surgeon gasped, dropping her files and throwing up both hands to shield her face from the blizzard of loose pages. Her forearms felt a fleeting sting; the Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts, and then there was a shocked stillness in the office, the floor littered as though a tornado had passed through.
Elizabeth stared at Kerry, and Kerry stared back. Both women were quietly furious, yet also embarrassed by the ugly scene. Although she'd finally managed to provoke Kerry into a real argument, Elizabeth didn't feel at all good about it.
She broke their eye contact, stooping to gather her files up; luckily, they had fallen without scattering. Then she walked out without another word.
Brenda, Robert's blonde secretary -- and, Elizabeth sometimes suspected, his frequent 'escort' on the odd night off -- was hovering outside the office, reluctant to intrude despite the ruckus. "Dr. Corday?" she ventured hesitantly. "Is everything all right with Dr. Weaver?"
It might have been a perfect opportunity to suggest that Kerry was having a psychotic breakdown, and perhaps undermine her influence before it was cemented. Rumors would fly thick and fast about the Chief's temper tantrums, and she would soon be the butt of endless jokes and innuendos in her own emergency room.
Robert would be proud of her ruthlessness.
"Yes, Brenda," she made herself say. "Everything's fine. She was handing me some reports, and we fumbled a bit."
"Oh," Brenda said, mollified if not convinced. "All right, then."
"Careless, really," Elizabeth added, forcing a smile.
Brenda left her alone, outside the office door, and Elizabeth could hear the scraping and rustling of papers as Kerry picked them up. Another thing that had to be done. She thought she could hear Kerry muttering, "Shit, shit, shit..."
Elizabeth had a brief impulse to help her clean up the mess, but squashed it. I refuse to feel sorry for that woman, she thought.
She walked away, mindful of Mark's smiling face on that fucking photograph on the fucking bulletin board down in the fucking emergency room lounge.
Robert would have been proud of her torpedoing Kerry Weaver.
But Mark wouldn't.
By the time she got Ella to sleep, Elizabeth needed a drink. But there wasn't any in the house. If there was any justice in the world, she thought, you'd be able to have alcohol delivered like pizza or Chinese food.
She stood by the window at the back of her house, wrapped in her robe, staring out at the light drizzle falling in her small, darkened back yard. It wasn't a large yard, but it was hers; after years of living in one apartment or another, she had a house with a yard. She'd hoped one day to stand at this same window and watch her husband and daughter playing together on some spring afternoon. Perhaps they'd be frolicking with a dog with floppy ears. The quintessential American Dream.
That dream was lost to her now, buried along with her husband. She'd traded all the freedom and independence of her youth for it, and now it was gone before she'd ever had a chance to enjoy it. How ironic that it had taken "the land of the free and the home of the brave" to strip away her boldness and liberty of spirit.
What had possessed her to come back here, thinking that it would be good for her and for Ella to return 'home'? There was nothing here for her, now that Mark was gone, and yet she couldn't seem to fit in back in her native land, either. Couldn't go back, couldn't go forward, and whichever one she picked felt like the wrong choice. It was true: the grass really was greener on the other--
'Greener', she thought. Ho ho, very droll, Elizabeth.
Looking at her faint reflection in the windowpane, she decided that that was the problem. There were two of her, two different Elizabeths, and she couldn't seem to bridge the gap between them.
Elizabeth Corday: bright, energetic, skillful, roguish, and unstoppable. She was unequalled in her chosen profession, and courageous enough to crawl into a collapsing building for the life of a man she didn't know. Yet she would also sneak into a Belfast pub, faking a creditable brogue to ward off rabid anti-Brit reprisal, just to listen to a favorite band play. Her life was, in short, a grand adventure.
Elizabeth Greene: widow and single working mother, cold, bone-tired, and thoroughly unhappy. She was wiser now, but not happier, having traded away everything she once had for a pipe dream of suburban domesticity. Her only joy in life was her infant daughter, and her only friend was Robert Romano, the Louie DePalma of surgery.
Two different women in one body. Could they ever connect to each other again?
A knock at the front door broke into her thoughts, startling her for a moment. Had she ordered some food, and didn't remember it? No, that was just a passing thought... Cinching her robe shut, she moved to the front door and opened it, surprised at the figure who stood there, lightly misted with rain.
"Hi," Kerry said, almost shyly. "I hope I'm not intruding...?"
As far as Elizabeth was concerned, Kerry Weaver was always intruding. "What do you want?" she said neutrally.
"I brought you a peace offering," Kerry replied, holding up a bottle of wine. "I, uh...I was hoping we could talk."
Elizabeth toyed with the idea of slamming the door in her face, but she found she just couldn't work up the anger. And besides, she was just thinking that she could use a drink. "Come in," she sighed.
Leaving Kerry to hang up her coat, Elizabeth took the wine bottle, noting its excellent vintage with reluctant approval. She set it on the coffee table and turned to her visitor, crossing her arms. "All right," she said. "You start."
Kerry clasped her hands in front of her. "First of all," she began, "I wanted to say how sorry I am for my outburst earlier today."
"Regardless of our disagreement, it was an inexcusable overreaction on my part, and I am deeply ashamed of myself."
As much as Elizabeth had longed to see Kerry eat crow lately, she was finding the experience strangely disappointing. It was difficult to stay angry with someone who was being so mature. "All right," she heard herself say, caught between residual hostility and her innate sense of fairness, "I suppose I...said some things that were...uncalled for."
"Thank you for saying that," Kerry said, no smugness in her voice. Elizabeth actually wished she'd be a little smug, so Elizabeth could justify picking a fight with her.
"Well then," Elizabeth added, eager for Kerry to leave her alone, "perhaps we should put this behind us and just carry on, then..."
"I wish it were as simple as that, Elizabeth, but I don't think we can," Kerry said. "We can resolve a spat like today's, but the basic problem doesn't go away just like that."
"For God's sake, Kerry, you're not going to start that again, are you?" Elizabeth began to feel that insistent pressure in her temples. "Yes, I still have the same problem -- you."
Kerry paused a beat. "Elizabeth, I honestly believe that you're not as fully recovered as you'd like to think. Everything in your behavior indicates that you still have some issues to work through, and something's holding you back..."
"Well, if you're so certain of that, Kerry, then why don't you have me psychologically evaluated?" she snapped. "It didn't help you get rid of Mark, but perhaps this time you'll be luckier."
There was raw hurt in Kerry's face. "I can't believe you still think that I took pleasure in that!" she said, her voice tight. "Do you really believe I wanted him to be found incompetent?"
"Didn't you?" Elizabeth knew she was twisting the knife in both of them, but she couldn't stop herself.
A hint of steel entered Kerry's eye. "Maybe I wasn't a part of his life the way you were," she stated, "but I worked with him a long time. I wouldn't have had him tested if I didn't need to know the truth, and I prayed for results that would show he was all right. I didn't want to lose him, either!"
"Well, you did, Kerry! All your precious tests said he was fine, and he STILL died!" Elizabeth swiped angrily at her eyes, determined not to weep in front of Kerry Weaver.
"That affected us all, Elizabeth, but especially you. And you haven't even cried for him, have you?"
Elizabeth didn't know how Kerry could tell, but it was true. She'd shed no tears since the day he died, forcing herself to be strong for Ella's sake and her own. She'd fled to England, putting a thousand miles between herself and Chicago so that some part of her could pretend that he was still alive and well; she just couldn't see him because he was so far away. It was easier to cling to the delusion than face the truth. She turned away from Kerry, fighting to contain herself.
"You have to let it out, Elizabeth," Kerry said quietly, touching Elizabeth's back softly.
No, she couldn't do that. It would shatter her beyond repair.
"You're going to get through this," Kerry continued, her voice almost painfully soothing. "I know how strong you are, and you'll surprise yourself."
Elizabeth hunched her shoulders and screwed up her face, trying to squeeze the feelings back down to where she'd kept them locked away.
"If my life has taught me anything," Kerry assured her, "it's that Nietzche was right: anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Turning with a jerk, Elizabeth gaped at Kerry, white-hot fury rising. "What did you say...?"
"I sai-- oh, Elizabeth, I'm sorry." Kerry went paler than usual, realizing her gaffe too late. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mea--"
Elizabeth slapped her hard, knocking her over sideways. She fell to the floor, all gangling arms and legs tangled with her crutch.
"Did THAT make you stronger, Kerry?!" Elizabeth screamed, bending over to seize her by the front of her shirt.
"Mark's tumor didn't exactly make him STRONGER, did it?!" She shook the smaller woman roughly. "No, it didn't! And it DID KILL HIM!!"
The crutch came up sharply, catching Elizabeth behind the knees, and she fell over on her butt, releasing Kerry as she tried unsuccessfully to break her fall. Blood-furious, she rolled over and tried to leap up again, but Kerry was on her, pinning her down with the crutch levered across her shoulders like a police baton. "Doctor Corday, get hold of yourself!"
Fueled by rage, Elizabeth threw Kerry off of her, dumping her on her back. Elizabeth seized the crutch, struggling for it like two boys over a baseball bat, and then she wrenched it away and threw it across the room. She heard it crash as it knocked over the end table where she kept the scant collection of framed photographs, but she didn't care.
Kerry tried to wrap her arms around Elizabeth's, pinning them, but Elizabeth squirmed free and struggled with her, the two women rolling over like alley cats as they fought for the upper hand. It was like all the scathing fury that she'd carried bottled up inside her was unleashed, tapped by this intractable woman who just wouldn't stop plaguing her. Finally, she caught Kerry in a leg-sweep to her weak leg, climbed onto her and pinned her down with hands and knees. Kerry's face was twisted with frustrated effort and flecked with spittle -- hers or Elizabeth's -- but she was trapped, immobilized.
Elizabeth glared down at the woman beneath her, feeling something that should have been triumph, but wasn't. Just a cold, bitter emptiness. She shuddered, the red haze before her eyes dissolving like a fever breaking, and she felt like she was about to burst into something, whether laughter or sobs, she couldn't tell. Feeling the strength drain out of her, she got slowly off of Kerry, who just stared at her warily.
Ella was crying, she realized suddenly.
"Oh God..." She hurried to Ella's room, disregarding Kerry behind her and lifted the girl into her arms. "It's all right, sweet girl, Mommy's here. It's all right now."
The child cried and squirmed some more, all jangled nerves and bafflement, before gradually quieting.
Elizabeth couldn't blame her being so unsettled, with all the crashing and yelling in the other room. It must have been horribly frightening, hearing her mother turn into a screaming wildcat. No matter that it was in another room, or that Ella was too young to understand the reasons behind her behavior; children always know. "I'm sorry," Elizabeth hushed her, feeling ashamed. "I'm so sorry, sweetie. I promise you, it will never happen again."
She rocked and hushed Ella, holding her long after she fell asleep again.
"Never again," she repeated, almost inaudibly.
After a time, she lay Ella back down in her crib and stood over her, a half-whispered lullaby on her lips, watching the perfect baby girl she needed to be strong for.
When she finally left the bedroom and returned tiredly to the living room, she expected Kerry to be gone, fled in a resentful funk, leaving the shambles of her living room behind, and probably even taking back the wine bottle. She couldn't blame Kerry, either.
But when she got there, she was surprised to find Kerry kneeling by the scattered photos, carefully picking up fragments of broken glass, dropping them into the wastebasket from Elizabeth's kitchen. She looked up as Elizabeth came in, her face hard, and they stared at each other. Then she went back to what she was doing.
Elizabeth didn't need to wonder why Kerry had stayed to help clean up the mess, she knew instinctively. It was something that needed to be done. Regardless of how Kerry felt about it, she took it upon herself to do something, because she couldn't be certain anyone else would. Exactly what she'd tried to explain earlier, in Romano's office. Perhaps, she thought, it was even why she'd had Mark tested; she needed to know.
Cinching her robe's belt tighter, Elizabeth moved over to right a chair that they had knocked over. Then she went to help Kerry with the pictures.
"Careful," Kerry cautioned her softly, indicating Elizabeth's bare feet. "There's some glass slivers I couldn't get."
"You should vacuum around here, before you let Ella crawl around."
"In the morning," Elizabeth said. "She's sleeping now."
They didn't look at each other.
Kerry handed her a couple of photos that hadn't broken: Mark on the beach in Hawaii; Rachel holding Ella; the proud parents with their baby girl, first day back from the hospital. It looked like the only broken glass came from the largest photograph, from the day of their wedding. Kerry looked at that one for a long moment before handing it over. She hadn't been there, Elizabeth recalled.
Elizabeth carried the photo over to her desk, leaving it there until she could replace the glass.
"Is Ella all right?" Kerry asked, behind her.
"She's asleep," Elizabeth replied. Then something made her add, "She's suffered no further effects from her overdose, if that's what you meant."
"I'm glad." Kerry retrieved her crutch and stood up, as if ready to leave. Her voice was flat, but without irony.
Kerry Weaver saved your daughter's life, Elizabeth told herself, thinking back to that nightmarish day, when she was sick as a dog, and her baby girl had gotten into Rachel's drug stash. Everyone was frantic and desperate to save her life, but it was Kerry who had calmed them all, kept cool, and took control of the situation. She'd guided their efforts with a clear and steady head, made all the right decisions, and been nothing but compassionate and thoughtful toward Elizabeth as well, in the process. She saved your daughter's life.
And you've never thanked her. Not once.
Elizabeth found the wine bottle, tipped over in their struggle but miraculously unbroken. She picked it up and turned back to where Kerry was almost at the door.
"Would you like some wine?" she asked.
Kerry looked at her, her gaze cautious but curious.
"Come on," Elizabeth said to her. "You might as well have some, while you're here."
Coming back to where Elizabeth stood, Kerry took the bottle, opening it while Elizabeth went to the kitchen for a pair of glasses. Kerry poured, then set the bottle aside and took a glass for herself. They looked at each other, glasses upraised.
"To Mark," Kerry said.
"To Mark," Elizabeth agreed softly.
"...of course, since we were trapped in the basement of the hotel and missed the conference entirely, the footprint on the transparent page was academic," Elizabeth said.
Kerry giggled. "So what did you do when you got out?"
"What any self-respecting pair of medical professionals would do under the circumstances, of course." She smiled. "We crashed a wedding and tangoed until someone threw us out."
The giggle turned into a real laugh. "Is that where you learned how to wrestle like that? Trying to dance the tango?"
"I wouldn't talk, Kerry. You fight like a girl."
"Oh, and you're Jackie Chan."
Elizabeth poured them some more wine. It was excellent; Kerry had good taste. "Did I tell you about the poison ivy?"
"No, but I heard about it. Ouch." Kerry sipped her wine with pleasure. "I don't know why, but that reminds me of the French fries."
"The first time I met Mark, I filched the rest of the French fries he was eating. Got hired the next day as chief resident, and I've always wondered if there was some cosmic connection between those two events."
"I can't imagine what it might be, if there is."
"Me neither. Just sticks with me." Kerry looked at Elizabeth, her features softened by good mood and good wine. "You were really good for him, you know that?"
Elizabeth smiled sadly, sipping from her own glass. In an oddly envious way, she was aware that Kerry, knowing Mark longer, might have more perspective on his life than even Elizabeth did.
"I'm glad he met you," Kerry added. "He deserved to be happy with someone. I certainly couldn't seem to be a friend to him for any length of time, as much as I'd have liked to. Sooner or later, something came between us."
That was a polite way of saying that Kerry did something to alienate him, Elizabeth thought. But it didn't seem like the time to raise that argument again.
"I learned so much from him," Kerry said, as much to herself as to Elizabeth. "I kept thinking that I could show him better ways to organize the department or advance his career, but he was the one who ended up teaching me. I learned to listen to people instead of talking down to them. I learned to encourage people instead of forcing them into a mold..."
Elizabeth looked at her skeptically.
"All right, so I'm still learning those things," she admitted. "We divided this group of med students between us once, to give them a look at emergency medicine. I prepared this elaborate orientation tour, with detailed overviews of the process, and walked them through it myself; not one of mine applied for emergency."
Kerry's propensity for impersonal lectures was no surprise to Elizabeth.
"All of Mark's did. And all he did was let them follow him around and get a feel for the place. It would never have occurred to me in a million years." Kerry frowned. "I wish you two had had more time together, Elizabeth. I have to admit, I took a bit of vicarious pleasure in watching the two of you start a life together."
Elizabeth fought the urge to feel guilty about not inviting Kerry to their wedding. "You should have a life of your own, Kerry," she said. "You can't let others live it for you."
Kerry smiled sadly. "Mark said something similar to me, last time I saw him."
Feeling the need to change the subject, Elizabeth asked, "Do you have anyone in your life?"
"Oh, I was involved with a firefighter for a while," Kerry said, "but that's over. It was a good relationship for both of us, but it...well, it just ran out of steam. We parted as friends."
"That's good," Elizabeth said, toying with the stem of her wineglass. "And you never know what road will lead you to the one you love."
"I had no idea, when I accepted Romano's sponsorship to come work here, that it would change my life so much." She brushed back her hair from one ear. "We met at a convention in Helsinki, of all places, and he suggested I come join the surgical department at County. I was delighted by the opportunity."
"You didn't think he just wanted to get you into bed?"
"Kerry, there are surely easier ways of bedding an attractive woman than putting his reputation on the line to import a surgeon from across the ocean," she said, an eyebrow raising. "He wanted to sponsor me because I'm a gifted surgeon who he felt would be a tremendous asset to the hospital."
"You're right. I apologize."
"And, of course, he wanted to get me into bed."
Kerry laughed. "Well, I guess I can't blame him for that," she mumbled.
"I'm used to a degree of flirtation from professional colleagues," Elizabeth went on. "You're an attractive woman yourself, Kerry; I'm sure you've had your share..."
Kerry raised her eyebrows, glancing away.
"Anyway, I didn't mind, since the offer was a good one. He was rather charming about it, in fact."
"Yeah, he can really pour it on," Kerry admitted. "Until you find out what a racist, sexist little prick he really is."
Elizabeth felt a small, protective twinge. "To be perfectly fair to Robert," she said, "I don't think he's actually racist or sexist."
"What?" Kerry looked at her in surprise. "How can you say that, knowing him as you do?"
"I admit he's behaved in those ways," Elizabeth clarified, "but it's not like he's treated any of the straight, white males in a kindly, charitable fashion."
Kerry shrugged. "So he's a bastard to everyone. How nonpartisan of him."
Elizabeth reached for the bottle and refilled her glass. "I've always believed that Robert's upbringing left him with a rather Darwinistic worldview; perhaps he was picked on as a child, being rather small and funny-looking."
"He likes to provoke everyone, just to see what they're made of, and he's not above using differences like race or gender to push people's buttons. But I've found that those who stand up to him, like you or me, or Peter Benton, are the ones he has the most respect for."
"Until he decides to crush them," Kerry muttered. "Maybe you should ask Kim Legaspi about the kind of respect he has."
"I know about Dr. Legaspi," Elizabeth said, "and about Maggie Doyle. They chose to leave rather than stay and fight; in Robert's view, that makes them unworthy of his respect. They lacked tenacity."
"Or maybe they just felt that they shouldn't have to constantly fight with someone they work with, just on the basis of their sexual orientation," Kerry argued.
"Kerry, I'm not trying to condone Robert's actions, just to help you understand him better."
Kerry shrugged. "I'm happier not getting inside that man's head, thank you."
Elizabeth sighed. "I can understand why you feel that way," she said. "But I've seen his good side, on occasion. He was very sweet to me when Mark died...and he took it very hard when we lost Lucy."
"I know. I remember." Kerry sighed, finishing her glass. "We'll just have to agree to disagree about him, I suppose."
"All right, we can do that," Elizabeth said, mildly saddened by their inability to bury all personal conflicts in one go. The red mark on Kerry's face where Elizabeth had slapped her stood out, but Kerry hadn't mentioned it. Elizabeth almost wished she would; she felt bad about the slap.
"It's not like I was happy about what happened to Robert," Kerry said. "With a lifetime of bad karma like his, something like this was inevitable, but that doesn't mean any of us are happy about it."
"No, I suppose not." Elizabeth set down her empty glass and got up from her chair, walking to the rear window where she'd been when Kerry knocked. The rain had stopped, but the clouds still hung over Chicago, blocking out the moonlight.
"No one deserves that," Kerry continued. "And he was luckier than many. Lucy, to name one. Or Mark."
"Yes." Elizabeth rubbed at her eyes. "If you don't mind, Kerry, I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"All right, I understand." Kerry lifted the bottle. "There's only a little left. Mind if I finish it?"
"No, go ahead." She'd enjoyed their conversation, but Elizabeth was beginning to exhaust her reserves of civility. With nearly half the wine bottle inside her, she was feeling the need to do something, anything, that didn't involve polite, publicly acceptable behavior; something completely emotional, involving no real thought at all. She didn't know exactly what it would be, but it seemed like a good idea to be alone for it.
She saw Kerry's reflection in the windowpane before the Chief joined her at the window. Her wineglass was in her free hand.
"I'll leave you alone now, if you like, Elizabeth," Kerry said softly.
Elizabeth nodded slowly. "I think that might be for the best."
Kerry touched her back, sending a vibration of potential energy through her body. "But I'd still like you to consider," she said, "that you still have a ways to go until you're all right. You're on the way, but you're not there yet."
"All right..." Elizabeth wished that Kerry would stop touching her. Not because it was painful or unpleasant, but because it was making her hard to contain whatever was starting inside her.
"I'll be here for you, Elizabeth, to help in any way I can," Kerry assured her. "If you need counseling, if you need time off...whatever I can do."
Something let go inside Elizabeth. "You want to help?" she said.
"Yes. Whatever you need."
"All right, then." Elizabeth turned toward Kerry, her right hand taking hold of Kerry's left, which still carried the wineglass. She lifted Kerry's hand, glass and all, to her lips and finished the last of the wine; it tingled against her tongue on the way down, sending a little wave of euphoria through her.
Then, with her left hand, she cupped the back of Kerry's head and pulled her forward until their lips met squarely.
A flush of surprise ran through Kerry's body, and her lips parted reflexively, Elizabeth's taking each one between them in turn, savoring the kiss unapologetically.
They parted, the vaporous traces of wine lingering on each woman's breath.
"Elizabeth..." Kerry whispered, her eyes filled with both desire and uncertainty.
No talking, Elizabeth thought. If she doesn't want this, she'll pull away. But otherwise, we're doing this.
She took the wineglass from Kerry's hand, setting it on the windowsill, and slid her free hand around Kerry's waist, pulling their bodies together, claiming her lips once more. Kerry's mouth opened willingly this time, and Elizabeth slid her tongue in deeply, exploring the sweet, tender recesses with a boldness that she hadn't felt in a long time. Kerry's arms returned the embrace, giving herself to the kiss and trembling almost visibly.
Elizabeth slowly broke the kiss, taking Kerry by the shoulders to turn her toward the window. She nuzzled Kerry behind the ear, reaching around her to unbutton her shirt and slide it off her shoulders and arms. Kerry yielded to her control, letting Elizabeth lean her forward against the glass as she kissed and nibbled Kerry's neck and shoulders. She tasted the soft, unique flavor of Kerry's skin, her perfume and natural scent combining in a bouquet almost as rich and subtle as the wine they'd consumed. Elizabeth's hands explored the shape and heft of Kerry's breasts, luxuriating in their buoyant fullness. Kerry's deep, heavy breathing left billows of fog on the glass window.
Feeling the desire for physical intimacy that had been growing for the last hour, Elizabeth slowly released Kerry, leading her back to the sofa. She sat Kerry down, kneeling in front of her, stroking and kissing Kerry's cheeks, chin and throat, running her hands through her hair. Kerry moaned aloud, her head falling blissfully back as Elizabeth's soft tongue ran delicately down her neck.
She was on fire with the urge to have this woman, regardless of their recent clashes. Perhaps, in fact, because of them; if she couldn't have the man she loved, she'd try the woman she hated. Or perhaps not hated, but... No, she wasn't going to think through this. If the old Elizabeth wanted someone, appropriate or otherwise, she'd have let nothing stand between them. And anyway, she thought, I just don't care anymore.
Kerry's fingers were running through Elizabeth's long hair as she unclasped Kerry's bra and slipped it off, loosing the ripe, warm mounds of pale flesh with their bright pink, swollen peaks. Kissing down the slope of one, she took it deep into her mouth, sucking hard and lashing the tip of her tongue over the nipple. Kerry's back arched sharply, drawing in a gasp of air as she pulled Elizabeth closer. "Ohh..." she moaned.
Circling her arms around Kerry's waist and pulling their bodies closer together, Elizabeth redoubled her erotic assault on Kerry's breasts, taking the other one for a while, then back to the first. You are mine tonight, she thought wildly.
A shudder of desire wracked Kerry's frame, and she pushed back on Elizabeth's shoulders, guiding her mouth away. "Wait..." she rasped.
Elizabeth sat back on her knees and waited.
"Elizabeth, my God..." Kerry whispered, eyes closed. Then, composing herself visibly, she opened them. "This is...this is not like you."
"You can stop if you want to, Kerry," Elizabeth said.
"It's not that I...I mean, it's not a matter of what I want," Kerry stammered. "I just don't want you to do anything you'll regret tomorrow." She swallowed. "Are you sure you can trust yourself to..."
Elizabeth waited, but Kerry didn't seem to know how to complete her sentence.
She looked at Kerry for a long moment in silence, and then said, "You may be right about me, Kerry, so I'll make you a bargain. When we return to the hospital, if you believe I'm being unreasonable or unprofessional, feel free to tell me so. I'll listen and defer to your judgment."
Kerry nodded. "I apprec--"
"But in my home, and my private life, I will be as impulsive and illogical as I damned well feel like," she added. "You can stay and help, if you like, but if that's the case, then you do what I tell you. That's the agreement we're going to reach. All right?"
After a short eternity, Kerry nodded again.
Elizabeth stood up. "Very well, then," she said, a gentle smile crossing her lips. "Then I want you to either get into my bed...or get out of my house."
Kerry stood up from the sofa.
Elizabeth hadn't been with a woman for just about twenty years.
The first one she'd been with was her roommate Eileen; they began experimenting with each other one night after listening to the girls next door, Ellen and Emily, making love (rooms had been assigned by a headmistress with some odd ideas about alphabetical arrangement). There were a few others, here and there, but mostly she and Eileen stayed with each other. Their last time was the night before graduation.
Sex with men turned out to be everything she hoped it would be, and she never went back to women. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she occasionally thought that she might try it again someday, if only for variety, but her heterosexual relationships were sufficiently fulfilling that it never really came up. Mainly, she liked the fact that she'd done it once, and could do it again if she felt like it. Just having it in her repertoire of experiences was satisfying enough.
Then she met a man who wanted to marry her, and who she wanted to marry, and she set the possibility aside, committing herself to a lifetime of monogamy. That lifetime turned out to be much shorter than she'd anticipated.
And now here she was with Kerry Weaver in her bed.
Perhaps it was a sort of midlife crisis cliché, sleeping with someone on impulse in an effort to recapture the vitality of her youth, but Elizabeth didn't care. Perhaps they'd be back at each other's throats tomorrow, but for now all that mattered was her need to do something unusual, something to break herself out of this funk she was in. Out of her grief at losing Mark, out of her conflict with Kerry, out of all her 'normal' patterns of behavior. Tonight would be an oasis of escapism.
Elizabeth stood by the bed with crossed arms, still in her robe, regarding the naked woman who lay under the covers, waiting for her. Kerry's expression was yielding, submissive, but not afraid. Eager, yet peaceful. Her 'Dr. Weaver' persona had been dismantled as she undressed, set aside along with her clothes, glasses and crutch. Only 'Kerry' remained for now.
Taking a handful of the bedclothes and drawing them down to the foot of the bed, Elizabeth took a good look at Kerry's body. Her usual mode of dress, practical to the point of stodgy, drew as little attention to her body as possible, which was probably the idea. Looking at her now, Elizabeth was pleased with what she saw; Kerry looked good the way women do when they keep themselves in shape for reasons of health and fitness, rather than vanity or appearance. Not as sleek or thin as a nineteen-year-old underwear model, but there was a mature sensuality about her that is only possible above a certain age. Elizabeth, sufficiently secure in her sexuality to look at both genders with an objective appreciation, decided that Kerry looked very good without clothes indeed.
Moving to sit on the bed beside Kerry, Elizabeth reached down to caress her face, gliding her palm over the smooth, high cheekbones. Kerry's eyes closed as Elizabeth's fingertips delicately explored her facial features, gently defining the contours of her nose, lips and chin. Her hand drifted easily down her neck, feeling the fine ridge of scar tissue in passing, then flowed lightly over her chest and stomach, through the soft thatch of hair, and cupped the mound between her thighs. Elizabeth let her hand rest there, feeling the moist heat against her palm. Kerry let out a sigh of arousal.
Elizabeth rhythmically squeezed and kneaded Kerry's sex with soft, gentle motions, lulling Kerry further into a fugue of anticipation. Her sighs became steady, fluctuating with her breath.
Slipping two fingers inside, Elizabeth stroked her from within, moving the pad of her thumb to brush over Kerry's clitoris, the small movements evoking a much larger reaction. Kerry's hips lifted off the bed and sank back, again and again. She moved one hand to cover Elizabeth's, as if to further encourage her actions, but Elizabeth's other hand took it by the wrist and moved it away; she intended to retain full control at this point. Kerry's hand wrapped around her thumb, holding it as though for support. Her climax was approaching rapidly, Elizabeth sensed.
When it arrived, peaking inside her, Kerry's body almost seemed to swell, then she shook and writhed as it overcame her. A gasping moan escaped her just as Elizabeth bent to kiss her lips, dipping her tongue between them. Kerry held the kiss for a long moment before Elizabeth withdrew again, pleased with herself for bringing Kerry to orgasm single-handedly. Quite literally.
Getting up from the bed, she paced around it, examining the nude woman from all angles and slowly licking her fingers clean. The taste was as sensuously decadent as the wine they'd shared. Kerry watched her, unmoving from where she lay.
Finally deciding upon the direct approach, Elizabeth faced Kerry from the foot of the bed. She undid the belt of her robe and let it fall off her shoulders, baring her body to Kerry's eyes. Kneeling on the bed, she moved up between Kerry's legs, running her hands up the ankles, shins, knees, thighs, absently searching for a medical cause for her limp. She didn't feel any bone defects or obvious causes, aside from a slight difference in muscular development; that could simply have been because one leg had to work harder than the other. Perhaps it was a nerve problem, and the left leg didn't respond to the brain's commands as reliably. Well, if Kerry wanted to tell her about it, that was her choice. Elizabeth's true interest lay not with her legs, but with what was between them.
Gliding her body up between Kerry's milky thighs, feeling the warm softness of skin against skin, she brought her mouth directly to Kerry's sex, finding the pink surrounded by creamy paleness. Slipping her hands up around Kerry's hips, she parted the moist lips with her thumbs and melded her mouth against them, covering the rich orifice completely. Kerry's back arched at the first brush of her tongue, a short squeak of delight emitting from her before she bit her lip, eyes shut tightly. Elizabeth committed herself silently to the sweet task before her, determined to perform as well here as she ever had in an operating room.
There really should be some better term for oral sex performed on a woman, she thought. 'Cunnilingus' was too clinical for her taste, 'eating pussy' too crass, 'going down' too vague, and poetic metaphors like 'sipping the pollen from her flower' were just plain ridiculous. No, there ought to be some concise, unmistakable way of describing the act, something that states the simple fact of it while capturing what a beautiful thing it was, if done well.
If Kerry could speak, she would certainly agree that Elizabeth was doing it very well. Her thighs closed tightly around Elizabeth's head, toes curling against the surgeon's buttocks, and her hands clenched tightly around fistfuls of red-brown curls. Her entire body seemed to undulate without moving, breath rising and falling faster with each stroke of Elizabeth's tongue.
Elizabeth moved her hands up Kerry's body to cover her heaving breasts, stiff nipples against her fingers, feeling the totality of Kerry's growing ecstasy. She'd forgotten how thrilling it could be to make love to a woman, knowing exactly what she was feeling, and knowing also that it was you who made her feel it. But there was also a deeper pleasure to it, knowing that the same wild joys she and Eileen had exchanged as nervous teenagers barely into womanhood could still be felt by confident, mature women approaching middle age. In some ways, felt more keenly. In making love to Kerry, she was reaffirming that the rewards of life lay as much ahead as behind.
Kerry's reaction grew beyond the point of containment, and she came with a convulsion that rocked the bed; Elizabeth suddenly found herself swimming upstream against a flash-flood of Kerry's passion. It died off all too soon, but the afterglow was strong enough to light up the room, if one possessed infra-red vision. Lifting her face away with a faint sucking sound, Elizabeth felt the wetness on her lips and chin as her face curved into an involuntary smile. Come what may between them tomorrow, she would certainly not regret this, tonight.
She climbed up over Kerry's body until they were pressed together, head to toe; Kerry wrapped her arms around Elizabeth and pulled her down for a long, passionate kiss, one hand sliding down her spine to clasp her right buttock. Legs twined between each other, breasts melded together like whales mating, and their tongues dueled in Elizabeth's mouth. Kerry clutched at her like she was the source of life, basking in the rich warmth and soft strength of her body. After an immeasurable time, Elizabeth pulled away and lifted herself off of Kerry. The rush of cool air between their hot bodies was disconcerting.
"Elizabeth..." Kerry moaned, reluctant to lose their joining.
"No, it's my turn," Elizabeth said quietly, moving up to kneel over Kerry's face. She put one hand on the headboard for support, the other behind Kerry's skull, pulling her up. "Lick my cunt, Kerry."
The redhead beneath her rose to the task with both enthusiasm and skill, sending bolts of exhilaration through her immediately. So she really is a lesbian, Elizabeth thought, or at least she's no stranger to women. Kerry's technique was exquisite, clearly not simple beginner's luck. She threw her head back, her own curls brushing over her shoulders as Kerry ate her deliciously, turning her bones to soft rubber and her spine into a neon tube.
She lost track of time, but her orgasm seemed to come almost too soon; she couldn't sustain the balance, and was soon driven over the edge and into climax. A groan of elemental satisfaction came from the base of her throat, and she shuddered joyously, letting it all out after far too long. Easing down from the height of bliss, she climbed off of Kerry and lay on her stomach beside her, facing the opposite wall.
All was still in the dark bedroom.
"Well," Kerry said at last, "that was a surprisingly constructive form of conflict resolution."
"Mmm," Elizabeth agreed. "I suppose there's something to be said for 'Make Love, Not War'."
"Yeah, I'm thinking of recommending it to Frank and Jerry the next time they squabble."
"Oh, UGH!!" She turned her face to glare at Kerry, smiling despite herself. "Thank you very much for that lovely image, Kerry!"
It felt good to laugh. There had been little cause in the last several months.
Kerry looked at her for a time, then kissed her bare shoulder. "You're so beautiful," she whispered.
Elizabeth closed her eyes, savoring the lingering traces of endorphins. "I haven't had sex in nearly a year," she sighed, more to herself than to Kerry.
"After Ella was born, Mark and I never seemed to have the time, between work and taking care of her, and so forth. All the things that occupy new parents, you know."
Kerry nodded noncommittally, and Elizabeth wasn't sure if she knew or not.
"And then he brought Rachel to live with us, with all the problems that entailed, and with one thing or another, we never got around to it. Then we were separated for a time, and..." She cleared her throat softly. "So much time wasted, and then it was too late. If only I had known how little time we had, or that our last time was really the last time ever..."
"I know," Kerry said. "So many things we think there will be time for."
Elizabeth closed her eyes, uncomfortable with the turn their conversation had taken.
"I never had the chance to tell him how much I learned from him," Kerry said. "No, that's not true, I had plenty of chances. But I couldn't allow myself to admit that I wouldn't have more. If I'd known that the last time I saw him would be the last time...that's the worst part of it; I knew it was his last day at work, I should have known I'd never see him again, but I just couldn't--"
"No, no, no, this won't do," Elizabeth broke in. "It's much too soon to talk about this."
Kerry seemed disappointed, but she didn't argue.
"Do we have any wine left?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, we finished it."
She sighed. "Well then, we need to fuck some more," she declared, turning onto her side to face Kerry. "If I can't get drunk, then I want to have cheap, meaningless sex all night."
A look that was either resigned acceptance or eager agreement came into Kerry's eye, and she leaned forward to kiss Elizabeth once more.
Elizabeth let Kerry ease her onto her back, continuing a pattern of kisses down the surgeon's chin, neck, and chest until Kerry reached her breasts. She took one in each hand, her tongue dallying with each nipple, licking and sucking them to greater hardness. Elizabeth lay back, luxuriating in the sensations of Kerry's attention to her body.
Those sensations increased, concentrating, as Kerry's mouth moved down her stomach, closer to her pelvis, seeming to slow as she settled herself between Elizabeth's legs. And then, at last, she was there, gifted fingers penetrating her easily as her tongue danced and flirted with Elizabeth's clit. Under Kerry's expert ministrations, her entire frame seemed to tense and relax, whole muscle groups tightening and releasing like herds of migrating animals beneath her skin. God, this woman was good...!
"Kerry, oh Kerry..." she breathed, her senses fluctuating chaotically. "Sixty-nine me, Kerry..."
The woman tormenting her rapturously lifted her eyes, but didn't pause from what she was doing. Say please, her look said wordlessly.
She didn't stop, one hand caressing Elizabeth's right breast while the other fingers slipped in and out of her unwaveringly. Kerry's breath was like a sauna on her labia while her tongue tickled her clitoris like lightning against an iron rod. It was amazing how subtly, and yet how completely, Kerry had taken back control.
"Kerry...please!" she gasped.
Yielding at last to the magic word, satisfied that she'd gotten the proper respect from Elizabeth, Kerry paused long enough to turn carefully around, bringing her legs to the head of the bed and resettling herself on top of the surgeon and resuming her erotic expertise.
Elizabeth claimed Kerry's sex again with her mouth, hungrily devouring her in counterpoint to the electric storm brewing in her own. They fed upon each other with the same determination they'd shown in their physical struggle earlier. Elizabeth came again, a burst of intense radiance going off within her, but wasted no time in driving Kerry into an orgasm of her own. Both women relaxed, slowly releasing each other.
As Kerry began to roll off, however, Elizabeth rolled with her, maintaining their embrace and coming to rest on top. She infiltrated Kerry once more, incompletely satisfied, and Kerry let out a squeal of surprise and delight as Elizabeth continued to stimulate her. She rallied herself and counterattacked (if 'attacked' was the proper term in a consensual context), again causing colors unseen by human eyes to wash through Elizabeth's body like clouds across the sky.
They pulled and writhed at each other, flesh pressing together every which way, all control lost, tongue-fucking madly like animals wrestling for dominance, building and straining toward a mutual climax that flowed through them like electricity through a closed circuit, bursting them apart from inside, opening every nerve pathway to flood it with the fresh, pure light of the sun cresting the horizon.
And then it was over.
Her conscious mind overloaded, Elizabeth recalled lying on top of Kerry, both exhausted and enervated by the experience. Then sliding off and lying beside her, sweat cooling in the night air. Then slowly getting up, retrieving her robe, and stumbling out of the bedroom to go check on her daughter. And now here she was, standing in Ella's room, gazing down at the sleeping cherub, the most important thing in her world.
Ella hadn't been awakened by the sounds of sex; either they hadn't carried as well, or they hadn't been intrinsically disturbing. Perhaps, on some unconscious, instinctive level, Ella knew that the noises, if she heard them, were nothing bad.
I hope you can understand, Elizabeth thought, suddenly feeling the need for her daughter's approval. I hope you don't think less of me for being with her. She's a good person; she cared about you and me and your father, as much as we argued.
I loved your father as much as I've ever loved anyone. I'll never love anyone the same way again, except you. But I don't want to be alone forever; someday I hope to be with someone again.
Ella shifted, tightened, one tiny fist curling under her chin in sleep, and she cooed once, then settled. In the boundary between intuition and wishful thinking, Elizabeth knew it meant everything was all right.
Thank you, little one.
She left the girl's room, in the sudden mood for a snack, and went to the kitchen, finding that Kerry was already there, wrapped in the top bedsheet. She held it about herself with one hand, leaning with the other on the countertop. She looked at Elizabeth as she entered, and they didn't need to say a thing.
Elizabeth got out some bread and cheese while Kerry fixed tea, and they sat at the breakfast table and dined wordlessly.
It was Kerry who broke the silence. "I love you, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth looked at her, uncomfortably surprised.
"We're going to be back at work soon, and, um...I wanted to tell you that before we..."
"Kerry, for God's sake, we've only been together once," Elizabeth said. "And, frankly, that was basically for sex. It's far too early to ask for any kind of commit--"
"That's not what I meant," Kerry interrupted, a trace of the familiar irritation returning. "I know this was about sex, Elizabeth. I'm not stupid. But would you please stop trying to use sex to divert me?"
That took Elizabeth aback somewhat. It was exactly what she'd been doing, she realized, using sex to keep Kerry away, just as she'd used violence and anger beforehand. "You're right," she said. "I'm sorry."
"What I was trying to say," Kerry resumed, a little more stiffly, "is that I respect you greatly as a surgeon. I admire you as a woman. I value you as a colleague, and I care deeply for you as a friend. I love you the same way I loved Mark."
Feeling very small, Elizabeth nodded.
"I don't know what's going to happen to any of us in the future, and I wanted you to know what I think of you." Kerry looked away, uncomfortable with what she had to say, but she persevered. "It was very hurtful to me the other day, when I tried to reach out to you as a friend, and realized how you hated me."
Elizabeth looked at her, feeling even worse.
"I guess it shouldn't surprise me, after how I had to deal with Mark, but...I hadn't appreciated how you felt. It was a bit of a shock, and that's why I was crying." She made a little shrug with her head. "Well...there may have been another reason, but that's a separate matter..."
Elizabeth took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I don't hate you, Kerry," she said. "And I do understand why you had Mark tested. If anything, I was angry because you had the courage to face the harsh truths, and I didn't. I couldn't admit that anything more might be wrong with the good life we were trying to build together."
Kerry nodded slowly. "I can understand that." She put her hand on top of Elizabeth's.
But Elizabeth pulled hers away, standing up and turning away, arms crossed. "I've been so angry at you, Kerry," she said, the words coming without thinking now. "At you, at Carter, at Susan, at the rest of the ER staff, all of you who claimed to care about him, and who couldn't do a damn thing to save him. You make a point to save everyone who comes in the doors, but not him!"
"I know, I know, it's completely irrational of me, and there was nothing anyone could do. But all of you, and especially you, the queen mother of the ER... It was like he was married to you more than me, Kerry. Not out of love or romance, but for the sake of the children. Your children and his, the ER staff, his family." The word came out bitterly.
"You were part of that family too, Elizabeth..."
"No, Kerry, I was a distant relation, by marriage rather than blood." Her body was clenching with fierce anger now, fingers digging into her sides through the robe. "It was like he loved them first, Rachel second, Ella and me third; you were his true wife, I was just the mistress he had a child with."
She knew that Kerry had moved to stand behind her now, but Kerry didn't touch her or speak.
"He lived for that damned emergency room," Elizabeth spat. "He gave everything he had to it until he had nothing left to give, and it was never enough, and then it just spat him out and went on like he didn't matter! He gave that fucking ER everything he had, everything he was, dammit, and it took and took and took and gave him NOTHING in return!"
Overcome by the furious, futile anger that she'd been carrying within her, finally boiling over and spilling out uncontained, Elizabeth sank to her knees, shaking impotently and trying to contain the primal reactions.
Kerry knelt carefully by her side. "It gave him more than you think it did, Elizabeth," she said quietly. "It gave him the chance to do more good than most people ever will. It let him be the best man he could be, and have a real purpose in his life, to help others who needed him. It gave him a way to use his life well."
Unable to bear Kerry's words, yet also unable to deny them, Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut, trying to hold back the tears, knowing she couldn't.
"And it gave him you," Kerry said. "He had a family who loved him in his last days, and it wasn't us. It was you."
And then her internal fortitude collapsed, like a mountain crumbling under a thousand years of water trickling through it, seeping through cracks, eroding fissures, and she let out a wail of loss and despair from a place so deep in herself that she couldn't have imagined it. Bursting into helpless sobs, she curled in on herself, much like her sleeping daughter.
Kerry guided Elizabeth's head and shoulders to her lap, and held her, comforting and sheltering her as she cried. Elizabeth could tell she was crying, too.
They held each other until the sun began to lighten the sky outside Elizabeth's window.
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